Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gonna go weedless? With work, you can

By LEE REICH The Associated Press - Published: May 4, 2013

The first step in creating a 'weedless ' garden is to stop turning over or tilling the ground.

Buried in every soil are countless dormant weed seeds waiting to be awakened by exposure to light and/or air. Not tilling - whether with a shovel, garden fork or rototiller - keeps those seeds buried and dormant.

Added bonuses to the no-till approach are preservation of valuable soil humus (organic matter), earlier planting in spring, more efficient water use and, of course, not tilling.

Keep soil intact and covered

I now take great pains to avoid disturbing the layering that naturally develops over time in any soil.

I clean up old marigold plants, tomato vines and other spent plants during and at the end of the growing season by jerking them out of the ground, coaxing out plants with large roots, such as corn, by first cutting around their main roots with a garden knife.

I also enrich the soil from the top down, spreading fertilizers and compost or other organic materials right on the surface. Most of a plant's feeder roots grow near the surface anyway. Near or on the surface is where organic materials also can do the most good offering protection from the pounding of raindrops and the summer sun.

Still, there are always those weeds that arrive in the garden as seeds hitchhiking in with the wind or dropped by birds. Each year, I smother them with a thin, weed-free mulch over the soil before slathering an inch of compost over the ground where vegetables grow.

Don't walk on my bed!

Of course, walking on the soil and rolling a wheelbarrow, garden cart or tractor over it compacts the soil; tillage is then needed to aerate it.

The way to avoid compaction is to lay out the garden with permanent areas for plants and mulched areas for traffic.

Planted areas in a vegetable garden don't need to be raised beds, however; they can be laid out flat on the ground. A big advantage of bed planting is that you can pack more plants into less space. Instead of planting carrots with 18 inches between rows, four or five rows can be planted with only a few inches between them.

Drip that water

Changing watering technique was the final step on my road to 'weedlessness. '

Not all plants need regular watering, but for those that do, drip irrigation is the way to go.

Drip irrigation puts water near garden plants, so none is wasted or promoting weed growth in the areas between plants or in paths.

This is not to say that with the above four steps weeds never appear. They do. But weed problems do not.

What few large weeds do appear get yanked out of the soil, roots and all, coaxed out, if necessary, with a garden knife or trowel.

Colonies of small weeds are quickly done in with a 'winged weeder, ' colinear hoe or some other hoe with a sharp blade that can be slid along parallel to and just a fraction of an inch below the soil surface.

Also important in keeping a garden weed-free is to search regularly for them. With the above four steps, this activity is pared down to nothing more than a few pleasant minutes per week.

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